In the second year of our campaign to save Lake Victoria, Vision Group media platforms will, until June 5, run investigative articles, programmes and commentaries highlighting the irresponsible human activities threatening the world’s second largest fresh water lake. Today, GERALD TENYWA and HENRY NSUBUGA profile the women at Kiyindi landing site in Buikwe district, who are adding value to mukene to reduce reliance on other fish species that are disappearing.
For decades, Lake Victoria has been providing different varieties of fish, but the women in Kiyindi landing site in Najja sub-county, Buikwe district, settled for mukene, a tiny species of fish, which was previously consumed domestically, as one of the strategies to reduce their reliance on other fish species that are fast disappearing. Mukene was also regarded as food for dogs or only good for making chicken feed.
“We used to dry mukene on bare ground, which made it dirty,” says Perus Logose, a fishmonger.
She explains that the mukene had stones and chicken droppings, something that led to the conclusion that it was good only for feeding animals and poultry.
In 2011, when the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) organised an awareness drive about proper handling of fish at Kiyindi, the turn out was impressive. Logose says FAO woke them to the reality that the poor handling of mukene had denied them better market in Kampala and beyond. The poor handling of mukene, according to FAO, had led to post-harvest losses estimated at 40% of the fish harvest.
The women in Kiyindi formed an organisation, Kiyindi Women Fish Processors Association, after the meeting with FAO to help them collectively add value to mukene and access lucrative markets in Mukono and Kampala. They were 15 members. “We were told adding value to mukene would be the only way for us to penetrate lucrative markets,” says Logose, the chairperson.
She explains that at that time, there was no drying rack at Kiyindi and the women believed that bare ground made mukene dry quickly.
However, making the community to adopt a modern way of processing mukene was not a simple task, according to Logose. Eventually, many adopted the modern way of drying mukene. According to Logose, the association has not only helped them to improve their livelihoods, but they are now also creating a bigger framework for development and conservation of the lake.
Less than three years after the meeting with FAO, mukene has catapulted Sarah Mpindi into prosperity, which remains a dream for most rural women. “I have bought a plot of land and built a house,” she says.
Mpindi says mukene has also enabled her pay her children’s school fees.
She adds: “I am now looking at starting a side business, which will help me earn even during the off season of mukene.”
Logose, a graduate of adult education from Makerere University, also has a diploma in fisheries, marketing and technology plus a certificate in food and inspection from Fisheries Training Institute.
“We are reducing the number of the people depending on the lake,” Logose states.
Logose encourages the women to save sh10,000 every week.
She explains that the saving scheme is growing, saying every week sh240,000 is available to help women to invest in other enterprises.
Currently, Kiyindi Women Fish Processors Association has over 80 members.
Logose says the organisation is also addressing development aspirations of the people and conservation concerns of Lake Victoria.
“The future of the women was uncertain,” says Logose, adding that when women are not well even the children and the husbands suffer.
She concludes that the future of the lake cannot be secure. “It is the people who benefit from the lake that will take care of it,” she said, adding that this has not been the case for decades. “As a result, the future of the lake is also uncertain.”
How 'mukune' is processed
As soon as mukene is harvested from the lake, Perus Logose, the chairperson of Kiyindi Women Fish Processors Association, says it is washed at least thrice to ensure that it is sand-free. It is then spiced with onions, garlic, salt, among other ingredients, and later dried.
While the Food and Agricultural Organisation taught the residents of Kiyindi in Buikwe district many ways of processing mukene, the women are only practicing four, according to Logose.
“We sun-dry, smoke, deep-fry or make powder out of it,” she says.
Logose adds that they also brand and package the mukene before selling it.
“The branding and packaging of mukene has helped us find market and win us other members.”
150 grams of mukene in powder form goes for sh2,500. A kilogram of deep-fried mukene is sold at sh10,000. A kilogramme of the unprocessed mukene costs about sh2,000.
Construction of one local rack costs about sh500,000, hence making them difficult to be constructed by the local people, according to Logose. She says for one to use these racks, one is asked to pay between sh500 and sh1,000 to help in maintenance.
Although many of the women such as Edisa Magoba still dry mukene on the ground, they put nets on the ground to avoid it from getting dirty.
Following Logose’s advocacy for the drying racks, the Government has constructed six modern ones in the area, which are to be used by the community. The racks have also been fenced off to protect the mukene from predators.
The efforts of the women such as Perus Logose to develop Kiyindi landing site are being watered down by lack of a toilet at the landing site.
“Diseases such as cholera could break out,” says Jackson Ssempijja, a resident.
He says the bush along the shoreline has been turned into a toilet.
“This also affects the quality of the mukene produced in this area,” Ssempijja adds.
According to Mathias Kigongo, the Buikwe district chairman, it is not easy to find a place to construct a toilet, saying the owners of land near the lakeshores do not want to sell it.
However, not all hope is lost.
“We will continue going step by step. Development is a process and so is conservation of the lake,” Kigongo adds.